Dear Students, Faculty, Staff and Families:
Three weeks from today we will ring in the new year. We remain hopeful that 2021 will bring continued scientific progress that helps us overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. Until then, we will continue to reflect on lessons learned over the past year, to inform collectively our approach to addressing the challenges of COVID-19 in the year ahead.
Today, I’d like to share some important updates on staying healthy during the holidays; some actions the University is taking to support students, faculty and staff, and our community; and findings from new research that offers helpful insight as you plan for a healthy new year.
Updates today include:
- Virus Transmission Research
- Staying Healthy
- COVID-19 Testing Update
- Flu Vaccination Reminder
New Research Explores Virus Transmission: We are nearly a year into this pandemic, and new research is giving us a better understanding of how and where the virus is transmitted. I’d like to highlight one of those recent studies, as I found the findings both insightful and personally actionable. Specifically, a new study published in the journal Nature identifies important considerations as we think about our own behaviors and that of our families in terms of health and safety practices. In this study, researchers were able to link 80 percent of all the COVID infections in the 10 largest U.S. municipalities to individuals visiting specific public venues and while at those venues either 1) being infected by another or 2) infecting another. In other words, the researchers found that 80 percent of all the COVID infections in the 10 largest U.S. municipalities could be accounted for based on exposures that occurred at the following locations/settings (in this order):
- Full-service restaurants (dine-in)
- Cafés/bars (dine-in)
- Churches/religious services
- Limited-service restaurants (take-out)
I call this study to your attention not to frighten you, nor should you interpret my sharing of this research as assuming a particular position or judgement (mine, or that of the University) related to the choices individuals make to visit the venues identified by the researchers. Instead, my only purpose related to sharing this research is to uphold our continued commitment to disseminate research and scientific findings positioned to inform our collective efforts to safeguard the health and well-being of our families and our community.
Staying Healthy: Of course, while the vast majority of us continue to follow public health guidelines, particularly as it relates to travel, gatherings and other day-to-day activities, the fact remains that there are some places and activities we can’t avoid. This includes grocery shopping, doctor visits, testing, etc. As such, as we enter what is expected to be peak COVID-19 transmission season, I am reminding everyone in our community of what actions we can take to protect ourselves and those around us, including:
- Get tested regularly: Many carriers of the virus are asymptomatic. Frequent testing is often the only way to detect the presence of the virus, absent any common symptoms.
- Monitor your health: Keep an eye on how you’re feeling. Do you have any cold-like symptoms? Are you running a fever? If so, call your primary care physician immediately.
- Take the simple steps: Wear your mask, always. Wash your hands regularly. Keep your distance. If you’re like me, you are probably experiencing some pandemic fatigue. I know it’s tough but taking these simple steps could be the difference between staying healthy and getting ill.
- Limit your travel: Whether you make quick visits to a local store or a longer journey to visit family, the fact remains that being out and about increases your chances of becoming ill. So limit your travel as best you can.
- Be responsive to contact tracers: If you receive a call from county, state or University COVID personnel, it’s likely they are reaching out to you to initiate contact tracing. Please, take the call and be forthcoming about with whom and where you’ve been. This process is critical to mitigating community spread.
- Get a flu shot: If you haven’t already, please, I implore you to get a flu shot. As we are seeing in local media outlets, our health care resources are stretched extremely thin. Getting a flu shot is an important way to stay healthy but also to allow medical professionals to diagnose you if you’re feeling ill.
COVID-19 Testing Update: Syracuse University’s Testing Center remains open and available to all members of our campus community. The Testing Center’s hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Please be advised that the Testing Center will be closed from Dec. 19 through Jan. 3. Plan to be tested no later than Dec. 18 to ensure you receive a result before the holidays.
In addition, when you visit the Testing Center over the coming weeks, you may take note of a change to the Syracuse University surveillance testing program. Specifically, over the past month Syracuse University has been working to enhance the speed, scale and responsiveness of our testing protocol. These efforts include a transition from the mouth swab saliva collection method employed during the fall semester, to a sample collection method where saliva is deposited directly into a sterile plastic tube. This new saliva collection remains minimally invasive and will enhance the University’s ability to return timely results to those being tested. We will be sharing additional details on the University’s enhanced surveillance testing strategy in subsequent messages.
If you plan to get tested before the holidays, please keep in mind the following information:
- Location: Enter the stadium through Gate N and follow the signs to the testing center.
- Appointments: No appointments are necessary; simply bring your SU I.D. and show up at a time that is convenient for you.
- Preparation: Do not eat, drink or brush your teeth for 30 minutes prior to testing.
- Safety Reminder: You must wear a face mask or covering when you arrive at the testing site. If you are experiencing symptoms or suspect you have been exposed to the virus, do not go to the stadium; instead, contact the Barnes Center at 315.443.8000 (students) or your primary care doctor (faculty/staff).
- Type of Test: The test is saliva-based, and the entire process takes just a few minutes.
- Delivery of Results: You will receive confirmation via email if your surveillance test result indicates no requirement for a subsequent diagnostic test. Individuals whose result indicates the need for provider consultation and a subsequent diagnostic test will be notified by phone.
Flu Shot Update: We appreciate all students, faculty and staff who have received and submitted proof of their flu vaccination. At this time, nearly 80 percent of our students and 82 percent of our faculty and staff have been vaccinated. As a reminder, all members of the University community, including students, faculty and staff, are expected to get an influenza vaccine to retain campus privileges. Faculty and staff are asked to complete a Flu Vaccine Status Attestation Questionnaire to confirm they’ve received a vaccine or to document a medical or religious exemption. To learn more, faculty and staff can visit wellness.syr.edu and students/families can visit the Barnes Center website.
Thank you for reading this update. I hope that you will make time this holiday season to rest, reflect and find joy. And, above all, wishing you good health.
J. Michael Haynie
Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation